Three days before I sat down to write this blog I tripped while running and broke a bone in my foot.
As you can imagine, the experience disturbed and upset me. I was filled with anger towards myself for being careless. I felt a surge of fear at the thought of teaching my weekly classes or leading yoga teacher training on the following weekend. I felt vulnerable as I considered how this would affect my job, my finances and my health.
I did, however, see a silver lining. After a week of wondering what to write about, I suddenly had material.
In my personal practice following the days after my injury, I kept noticing a deep vulnerability underlying my emotions and thoughts, so I decided to look at some yoga texts and see if I could find something useful on the subject. I stumbled on a 5th century text called the Yogavasishta which presents a seven-fold system of yoga practice and the second and third stage of this system seemed particularly relevant.
Deep Thinking (Vicarana)
I believe this deep thinking stage refers to a yogic understanding of the nature of reality. The Yogavasista says this about deep thinking:
This person (the spiritual seeker) knows the classification of things
And the rules of proper conduct
Having heard what is to be learned,
This person has command over the mind
Like a householder manages his home
“Classification of things” in this verse probably refers to Samkhya philosophy, an ancient system of “classification” of all elements of reality. Samkhya teaches that underlying our thinking mind is an aspect of our being called ahamkara. Ahamkara translates as “self-shape” or “the I-maker”. It is our pre-verbal sense of self as a separate entity, that desires stability and continuity.
According to this model our experiences either validate or threaten our sense of self. Naturally and instinctively we seek experiences which validate our I-maker and attempt to avoid experiences which threaten it. In my case the experiences of living through a global crisis and dealing with a broken foot were intensely threatening to my ahamkara. Through the exercise of deep thinking and utilizing Jnana Yoga, we can identify the vulnerability of ahamkara as the source of disturbance.
But what does a yoga adept do about it?
No Attachment (asamsanga)
The Yogavasishta presents the following instructions for the aspirant, on the subject of non-attachment:
I am not the doer; I am not the enjoyer.
I am not oppressed nor do I oppress others.
I believe these verses instruct the aspirant to realize that they are not the “I-maker” or ahamkara. The text continues:
If I am happy, is it due to me? If I am sad, is it due to me?
If I experience pleasure, is it due to me?
If I experience displeasure is it due to me?
If things turn out well, is it due to me?
If things go wrong, is it due to me?
All that comes together eventually falls apart.
All thoughts that arise eventually dissipate.
Time swallows all existence, zealously and continually.
These questions instruct the yogi or yogini to move beyond identification with ahamkara and realize that our experiences are not caused by our ahamkara. We simply experience the ahamkara’s response to events and forces beyond our control and mistakenly identify with it. The terrible truth is nothing is permanent and our I-maker, our sense of self, is infinitely vulnerable.
There you go. Feel better now?
There is no reason to feel bad because very soon you and everyone around you will die and all your troubles and worries will be extinguished and forgotten. Not very helpful is it? The following verses describe the need for a sustained practice.
“It does not matter!” Through the practice of this insight
One enters the inner realization of non-existence.
Attaching the mind to the meaning of this phrase
Is the same as dwelling in non-attachment.
To achieve non-attachment one must practice accepting the state of vulnerability. When we combine the acceptance that our ahamkara is infinitely vulnerable with the realization that we are more than our “I-maker” we are dwelling in non-attachment. While this is a difficult practice, most likely everyone who has taken a yoga class has felt vulnerable at some point. Whether it is a pose that required more strength or mobility than you have or something new you have never done before, chances are you have felt your ahamkara squirm.
As we are navigating through this historic, global crisis, not only our individual but also our collective sense of self is experiencing extreme vulnerability.
All the systems we have built to insulate our I-maker from the forces of impermanence are put to the test. The very fabric of our society is under strain. The continuity of our careers, relationships, and even our lives are in question. To understand this is to understand why people often react in intense ways, out of frustration, anger and fear, all born from ahamkara’s vulnerability. I am not sure that there will be a solution or a happy ending to our crisis, but as a yoga practitioner I intend to use it. To open to the experience of vulnerability and sit in acceptance, without clinging or pushing it away is the practice of non-attachment. Non-attachment does not mean a bulletproof shell which doesn’t allow for any weakness. It is the deep awareness of the fragility of life and the ensuing sweetness from treasuring each moment.
Delight, contentment and joy are caused by this spotless blossom of non-attachment